Monday, November 20, 2017

“Light-houses, My Boy! Beacons of the Future!

This week finds me at the end of my favorite part of the school year.  For the past two weeks, I've been teaching about Sherlock Holmes and the mystery genre to my fifth grade class.  Two things I'm passionate and deeply interested in are Sherlock Holmes and education.  For these two weeks, they merge into hours of lessons where my students are engaged and I am in the zone!

I won't go into depth here as to my lesson plans.  If you are interested, they are written in depth on my classroom webpage.  What I want to talk about is the infectious joy that is flowing through my room in relation to the great detective and reading in general right now.

In the past two weeks, we've covered The Blue Carbuncle, The Red-Headed League, The Speckled Band, The Copper Beeches and a Scandal in Belgravia as a whole class.  Most of these stories warranted two days of instruction, one day where the kids read with partners focusing on one or two thematic questions, and the second where we read as a class and discussed particular story elements.

I've been jotting down lines I've heard from kids as they read with their partners:

BLUE: "This must be where the term 'wild goose chase' came from!"

REDH: "Oh, that guy has red hair, too!"

SPEC: "Why in the world would she sleep in there?  This is SO creepy!"

SCAN: "A smoke bomb? This dude is crazy."

I always close the reading unit with A Scandal in Bohemia because it lends itself to such great classroom discussion.  We stop to brainstorm ideas to get the photograph back from Irene Adler which sometimes makes me marvel at how decivious fifth graders can be!  This year, a big debate flared up when I asked if Holmes accomplished his mission at the end of the story.  No matter what side of the debate the students ended up on, they all agreed that Irene Adler came out on top in the whole thing.

But it hasn't just been all reading.  On Monday, the students will perform two plays for the other fifth grade classes based off of The Blue Carbuncle and The Red-Headed League.  Watching these Midwestern kids try to employ British accents is always a hoot.

After watching the trailer for Sherlock Gnomes, we discussed other ways that Sherlock Holmes can be portrayed.  From there, the students started going through a two-week writing process to create their own Sherlock Holmes story.  When I first announced the project to them, the kids were audibly excited to write!

And these stories are really good.  Some of them are great mysteries.  Others have a five year-old Holmes investigating a robbery at a candy store, and another has Holmes fighting a ninja.  (It's titled Sherlock Holmes Fights a Ninja).  After discussing the elements to the mystery genre, the only requirements I gave students were that they had to have specific story elements found in most mysteries and that there had to be a character named Sherlock Holmes in their story.

What I got for their finished products were so different and fun, I actually woke my wife up while I was reading a story one night because I was laughing at it so hard.  This particular story has Holmes investigating a robbery from an Egyptian pyramid by a villain named Egypt Ian (that's great!).  He resurrects King Tut, Holmes foils the plan, Egypt Ian gives a long explanation why he did it, and King Tut just shrugs his shoulders, and answers "Meh."

Do I expect all 26 of my students to become ardent Sherlockians after this unit?  Absolutely not.  From a purely educational standpoint, I expect them to have a better grasp of story structure, the writing process and reading fluency.  But, hey, if they pick up a copy of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to read over Thanksgiving break, who am I to stop them?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

As My Speech Surely Shows You

Becoming a published author and taking a simple idea and creating something brand new from it has been a great experience.  Another interesting experience happened this past week when I was invited to speak to 300 middle schoolers on Thursday about the writing process.

Despite my social anxiety, I jumped at the chance at talking to LOTS of kids about Sherlock Holmes.  Being a teacher, I usually get to plant seeds of interest with my 25 students per year and hope something grows from it.  300 kids?  Well, hopefully I was able to get a few more kids interested in Holmes and Watson.

Here's what I had to say:

Your principal asked me to come here today to talk with you about the writing and publishing process.  Writing is a creative outlet, just like music, drama, sports and any other hobbies you have. And for anyone who says playing sports isn’t creative, I challenge you to watch what some of the top tier athletes can do in their profession and tell me they aren’t creative.  Adam Wainwright pitched a game this season where he couldn’t throw anything over 87 miles per hour and still got the win.  You’re telling me that didn’t take some creativity? 

Even video games can be a creative outlet.  Minecraft isn’t as cool as it used to be, but that was a huge creative outlet.  And how you complete missions on Call of Duty or some of the junk plays you try in Madden are creative in their own way. So even if writing isn’t your thing, bear with me.  Because my hope is what I have to say about the writing process can be applied to whatever your interests are.  If you’re not a writer, just consider this talk about the creative process instead.  They’re not too far removed from one another.

Alright, we’re all familiar with the steps to the writing process from all of those awesome five paragraph essays you’ve had to write in your life, right?

Prewriting, Writing, Revision, Editing and Publishing.

Okay, that’s the writing process in a nutshell.  Now, let’s talk about my book.

My book, The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, takes the character of Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest detective, and turns that concept on its head.  Instead of Holmes being a detective solving crimes in Victorian London, I’ve made him into the criminal genius behind the crimes in Victorian London.  Sound interesting?  Great.  Make sure to order your copy from Amazon when it comes out this month. 

That one little idea to turn Holmes into a criminal is all it took for me to start the prewriting process.  This little idea is the spark that starts a brainstorm.  Whether you have a writing prompt or a research project to complete, brainstorming is your first step.  From there, you can let your imagination run wild.  JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien and Suzanne Collins all created whole new worlds for their characters that all started from a single idea. 

I am not the world’s most creative guy, but you don’t have to be overly imaginative to create something exciting and worthwhile.  Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Shark Tank knows that it just takes one small idea or a twist on an existing idea and you can take off from there.
But here’s an important part that no one ever talks about.  When those ideas start coming, write them down!  How many of you have ever had an awesome idea and then can’t remember it twenty minutes later?  This is where outlining comes into play.

Getting all of those ideas out of your head and written down somewhere is the first step, and then you put them in order.  And once you have the outline of what you want to create, you’re going to see the areas that need more attention.  This is where you can push yourself. 

For me, research was one of the best parts of writing my book.  I learned about the Tibetan mountains, French wine and Victorian cuss words just because they fit well into my story.  Is that information I’m going to use every day?  Probably not, but it’s cool to know some of that stuff.  

I do most of my writing at night after my daughter goes to sleep and my wife is watching Teen Mom.  I can’t stand to be in the room when Janelle is on TV, so it’s a good motivator to get to work. A lot of these nights were spent researching topics I knew a little about, but not enough to sound like I really knew what I was doing if I put it in a book.  You guys, have you heard of this internet thing?  It’s amazing!  I spent one whole night reading Mongolian traveler’s journals from the Smithsonian collection.  I ended up learning way more than I needed for the two sentences I ended up putting in my book, but the research part was pretty rad.

Okay, so now you have your ideas, the order they go in, and the information you need to make an awesome story.  Oh no, now you have to actually write this thing!  Staring at an empty screen or a blank page is daunting.  There’s no better way to start than to just start.  The first chapter of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street is titled, Begin at the Beginning, and that’s just what you have to do.  Just start writing.  And keep writing.  And then write some more.  Don’t worry about making it great on the first try, because you won’t. 

There’s a saying, Don’t let great get in the way of good. 

If you’ve made it this far in creating something, you obviously think it’s pretty good.  Get that goodness written down!  And here’s a secret, first drafts stink.  That’s why first drafts are called rough drafts.  Because they’re rough.  Do you think John Green just sits down and awesomeness flows right out of him?  Well, probably.  But his first drafts still get changed and reworked along the way. 

Here’s my example of that.  If you’re familiar with Sherlock Holmes, you probably also recognize the name Irene Adler.  She’s a pretty important character in his story.  When I got to Irene’s chapter, I had a vague idea of how I wanted to write it.  I got it down, and was not happy at all with how it turned out.  But I kept on writing.  I had other chapters to write.  I ended up rewriting that chapter at least three times from start to finish, but if I tried to do that during my first draft, it would’ve thrown off my entire flow. 

A lot of that first draft is going to get changed.  Another big change was a whole chapter that I ended up deleting after my first reread of my book.  After spending a couple days working on it, I realized it was garbage.  Delete!  One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you about writing or any project you care about is to keep at it. 

There are going to be days you don’t want to mess with it.  Keep at it. 

Sometimes you’ll try and try and nothing seems to work.  Keep at it. 

Some days you’ll sit down and realize you need to completely redo the previous day’s work.  Keep at it.

Because the minute you start to get lazy with your project, all of your forward momentum you’ve built up starts to slip away.  And forward momentum is the best thing you can have working for you. 
Don’t give up.  There are going to be some days when whatever you’re working on just isn’t clicking.  But there are going to be more days when everything flows.  You’ve got to push through to get to those days.

To actually write The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street took me about five months.  The revising and editing process took another seven.  But writing isn’t a solitary endeavor.  Recruiting someone to read your first draft is a great way to get early feedback.  These are called alpha readers.  In the gaming and computer world, they’re known as beta testers.  Their main purpose is to run through an early version of a project and point out things to fix. 

Not things that are wrong.  Things to fix. 

This is an important difference.  Things can’t be wrong on a first try.  They just don’t click yet.  When you’re creating something, everything makes sense in your own head, but those ideas don’t always get conveyed when you put them out there.  The purpose of the revision process is to evaluate what you’ve done so far and fine tune it.  These are what team practices and band rehearsals are in real life.  You try something, and then try it again and again until it’s great. 

My alpha reader caught a big mistake in my first draft.  A character I’d killed off in the middle of the book showed back up three chapters later.  Whoops!  It had been a few weeks since I had written the chapter where he died and it wasn’t on my mind when I plugged him in later.  That would’ve been a big problem if it made it to the final copy.  It wasn’t something wrong.  Just something I needed to fix.  I worked over the actual storyline of my book start to finish three times, each time finding things to tweak and streamline.  Each time, I felt that the story was getting stronger and stronger.
But, there will be things that are wrong with your creation.  And the editing process points all of those out. 

Here’s where I go into teacher mode and tell you that you should be double checking all of your work.  Whether it’s a homework assignment, code you’re drafting, or story you’re writing.  There are going to be things that are wrong.  I guarantee you’ve all gotten tests or assignments back and double checking your work would’ve caught some careless mistakes. 

Editing is a real life skill. 

If you don’t think I double check my work before I file my taxes, you’re nuts.  And I sure hope someone edited the medical textbook that anyone who operates on me read in college.  Editing not just saves your grades, it can also save money and lives. 

And here we are at the final step: publishing.  This is putting your finished product out there for the rest of the world to see.  This is where you post a video to YouTube, put your fan fiction on a site, turn in that research paper you’ve been slaving over.  This is what people will judge your work on. 
All of those other steps prepare you for publishing.  You’ve worked out all of the kinks, fixed all of the errors and made your project look great.  Come and get it!

Putting stuff out in the world also means getting rejected and ignored.  I’m not going to lie, it stung when I got rejected by publishers and I got down right mad when other publishers ignored my queries.  But keep at it.  I found a publisher who was awesome to work with and I wouldn’t have gotten there if I let my bruised ego stop me after my first few rejections. 

Maybe you get a lot of hits on your blog, or that play you’ve been drilling on works perfectly in a real game.  This is where all of that hard work pays off.  You have accomplished something and no one can take that away from you.  We all know there are trolls out there who are going to try and bring you down.  You did not work this hard to let some troll have a negative impact on you.  If you like your final product, then other people will too. 

Go look at the ratings for your favorite YouTuber or app.  I bet there’s a lot of negativity in those ratings.  Does that stop something you like from being awesome?  If you can enjoy someone else’s product that other people want to hate on, others are going to like your product too. 

Sports talk stations are full of people calling in who think they know better than the players and managers.  Guess who doesn’t listen to the negative feedback?  And guess who’s making a whole lot more money that those callers? Players and managers.  Because for every troll who blows you off or tries to make you feel inadequate, there are more people out there happy for what you’ve created. 

Your skills are a true gift to the world and people really do appreciate them, even if they’re not overly vocal about it sometimes.  As a teacher, I promise you we appreciate the hard work put into big projects or seeing an improvement in your schoolwork.  And your friends and fans appreciate the work you put in, too.  They care because you care.

So, whether you love writing or your passion lies somewhere else, look at each new endeavor as a chance to create something awesome out there.  Push yourself to be better.  Because the more you push yourselves, the better you’ll be.  And if you get to be really awesome, you just might get to speak in a middle school auditorium someday.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

I Shall Be All Anxiety

Like many Shelockian Twitter conversations, Chris Redmond started it.

Many of us shared our own short versions of our first nights in Sherlockiana in response to Chris's tweet Friday night.  I won't go too far into mine, as I've already shared it on I Hear of Sherlock a few years ago.  My favorite part of the conversation was one Sherlockian telling us that he ripped the seat of his pants TWICE on his first night.  That makes for a memorable evening!

This conversation got me thinking.  Is social anxiety a common feature of Sherlockians?  We are a literary bunch, so introversion wouldn't be out of character.  On the other hand, we are very sociable with one another at our gatherings.

So, why are there so many stories about us being nervous our first time?

And for some of us, it's not just the first time we meet.  I've written about how much I love my local scion, but there are some days where I'm all nerves on the way to a meeting.  Social anxiety sucks.

But it makes me wonder if this is a larger phenomenon among the younger generation of Sherlockians and people as a whole.  In the 50's, or the 80's, or anytime before the internet, really, if people weren't comfortable in social situations, they mostly stayed home.  Now we have a culture where we can be connected, but still isolated.  But when our connections are based in a common interest, it's a natural step to want to meet with others who share your interests.  And that is where people are stepping out of their comfort zones. 

Events like 221BCon in Atlanta never would have existed before the internet.  People from all over the country descend on Georgia each year, many times only knowing others as their online personas.  My bet would be there are more than a few attendees there that would admit to having social anxiety.

Before the internet connected us all, Sherlockians were connected through newsletters.  And the granddaddy of them all is the Baker Street Journal.  I assume that the Baker Street Journal had plenty of subscribers that never attended a scion meeting, much less the big gathering in New York every January. 

But this is a new day and age.  Now, we can get our BSJ in the mail, participate in Ashley Polasek's #221Movie tweetalong with her college students, spend hours reading on the new, upload your own fan fiction to AO3, and all other kinds of Sherlockian activities from our home.  But it's those real life, human connections that are so great.

So, even if you're a member of the old guard or a millennial and you suffer from social anxiety, get out there and spend time with other Sherlockians in real life.  Because, for every story of someone ripping their pants in the Twitter conversation, there were a dozen stories of people being welcomed with open arms to a community of people who all share the same interest, even if it is a little out of our comfort zones sometimes. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Character, Canines and Cocaine

My original idea for this week's post was to only talk about dogs and cocaine, but then I heard the new episode of Sherlock Holmes is Real.  As I mentioned last week, I was interviewed for the second episode to discuss The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.  I didn't know much, if anything, about the show, but publicity is publicity, right?  Somehow, my interview trying to get the word out about my new book got me pulled into some conspiracy perpetrated by the Baker Street Irregulars and descendants of Moriarty.  It's pretty nutty, but if you're into out there ideas, this week's episode of Sherlock Holmes is Real is.... something.  Besides calling my character into question, they question if my name really is Rob Nunn, or if it's a nom de plume meant to lead people to think Sherlock Holmes never existed.

I'm just trying to sell some books, people.

The past week has found the topic of dogs on my mind quite a bit.  Because we adopted a puppy Friday night.

Ever since talk of getting a dog began, I've been trying to convince my wife and daughter to let me name it Toby.  Like most things that I argue with my wife and daughter about, I lost.  Even though our new pup was a girl and was already named Molly, I still tried valiantly to name our new pet Toby because Toby is the best animal in the best story in the canon.

I don't know why I love Toby so much, but I do.  It may be because he is the first animal that Holmes has respect for.  Much better than the poor dog in A Study in Scarlet.  It might be because of the scene when Watson goes to Old Sherman's house on Pinchin Lane to get Toby.  Or it might just be because that was the dog's name in The Great Mouse Detective.

Either way, Toby is a piece in a bigger puzzle that is The Sign of Four.  I really enjoyed Chris Redmond's About Sixty, but am so stubborn that I found myself disagreeing with the 59 other submissions that didn't say The Sign of Four was the best story.  But that's another post.

(One more picture of my dog before I move on)

A thought occurred to me today as I was thinking about this story.  One of the highlights of SIGN is the scene with the Watson's watch.  Watson is trying to keep Holmes occupied so he won't use cocaine.  His lecturing didn't work, so he pulls out an old pocket watch to have Holmes show off his deductions.  Once this little tour de force is finished, Mary Morstan shows up and the plot takes off.

But what if Watson hadn't delayed Holmes for whatever reason?  We have a very different client meeting.  Holmes has just injected himself with a seven percent solution of cocaine and a well-gloved young lady comes to talk to her about her dead father.  Things probably would've gotten weird.  Doyle never showed us what Holmes was like on cocaine, but I can't imagine he would be one to sit with his fingers tented and eyes half closed as he listened to a client lay out their problem.

If it weren't for Watson's watch, would SIGN have ever happened?  Does Holmes dismiss Mary Morstan's card or is she so turned off by the drug fiend she meets with that the case never happens?  Bartholomew Sholto's murder goes unsolved.  Tonga lives.  Watson and Mary never marry.  Watson probably never opens up his own practice.  The Adventure of the Naval Treaty is never brought to Watson and Holmes.  Britain is drawn into war.  Watson and Holmes are drafted into service.  No one is there to stop Moriarty.  Chaos ensues.

Thank God Holmes never took that cocaine.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Listen to This, Mr. Holmes!

There is a subset of the Sherlockian that I feel doesn't get enough attention: podcasts.

Now, before you say, "Nah, not for me."  Give me a second.  We are spoiled in our hobby as having some very good and very different podcasts out there.  I love the podcast forum, listen to a lot of them and I really feel like there is a show out there for each of us from the fans of traditional scion meetings to people who swoon over Cumberbatch's cheekbones and everyone in between.

Let's take a little stroll through Itunes, shall we?

The granddaddy of them all, and the one that should be mentioned first, is I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere.  Put out by Scott Monty and Burt Wolder, IHOSE has 130 episodes under the belt dating back for years.  IHOSE is now on a bi-weekly schedule, and is THE podcast for the traditional Sherlockian world.  In fact, their playlist page gives you an idea of just how broad the show's focus us.  From books to  BSI societies to holidays to a primer for the uninitiated, I Hear of Sherlock has probably covered a subset of Sherlockiana that you're interested in.  No matter what I may be listening to on the 15th and 30th of the month when a new episode drops, that gets pushed to the side for my dose of IHOSE.  I recommend that every Sherlockian out there subscribe to this show just to be aware of the wider world of Sherlockiana out there.

In fact, IHOSE had so many topics to cover, they started a second podcast, Trifles.  Trifles, as the title would imply, focuses on the trifles of the Sherlockian stories.  These are much shorter episodes, about 15 minutes each, and focus on a very narrow subject.  Episodes of Trifles will be more or less interesting depending on the topic.  Watson's marriages may be highly interesting to you, but maybe not the role of mothers or fathers in the stories.  No worries, because the next week will be a whole new topic!  If you are someone who loves to go down a rabbit hole on a specific topic, Trifles is right up your alley.

The history of Sherlockian podcasting can't be told without talking about The Baker Street Babes.  Started by Kristina Manente, the Babes have grown since the early days in 2011.  The cast is made up entirely of young women, but if you brush them off as silly fangirls, they will quickly prove you wrong.  BSB includes best-selling authors, world travelers, college professors, and plenty of others who know more about Sherlock Holmes than most of us.  The show has a heavy BBC Sherlock focus, but that's not their only focus.  Episodes have included interviews with Sherlockian authors, playwrights and radio personalities.  They just announced their second book, Femme Friday.  Although the output of shows has slowed down in recent months, anyone who enjoys BBC Sherlock and is interested in branching out to know more about the source material would do well to check out this high energy podcast.

I Grok Sherlock is a fairly new podcast put out by Mike Ranieri and Geordie Telfer of the Bootmakers of Toronto.  Each month, Mike and Geordie take listeners through one of Doyle's Holmes stories in order of publication.  But this podcast is far from your typical book report.  The hosts' irreverent sense of humor and pop culture knowledge permeates the shows from start to finish.  Although each episode is dedicated to a specific Doyle story, Mike and Geordie spend a large part of each episode (and sometimes a whole episode on its own) going over the month's story's representations in popular media.  Their background in theater bring a new insight to discussions of Peter Cushing, Benedict Cumberbatch, Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, and the many, many, many other actors who have portrayed the Great Detective over the years.  If you are interested in Holmes and his media incarnations, this is the show for you.

For fans of BBC's Sherlock and all of its fandom, there is The Three Patch Podcast.  This is a big one.  I mean big in scope of time.  Episodes can run up to three hours in length!  But it's not just hours of the same people talking.  Oh no.  It has recurring segments, reviews, interviews and much more, all with different hosts.  Three Patch is put together by a team of people who all have a serious love of the BBC show and its fandom.  And this fandom has worlds most of us traditional Sherlockians know little about.  If you love this fandom, you probably already know about Three Patch, but if you are curious about the online world of Johnlocking and fan fiction, this is your gateway.

And then comes the newest of the Sherlockian podcasts, Sherlock Holmes is Real.  This is actually what got me thinking about podcasts this week.  I was interviewed for Sherlock Holmes is Real last weekend and wasn't totally clear on what it was.  Toni Sutherland said she was interested in talking to me about The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, and there's no such thing as bad publicity!  It was a pleasant interview, but she latched onto an offhand comment I made about conspiracies which struck me odd at the time.  When I heard the episode, I completely understood.  Apparently, there are some Sherlockians out there who think Sherlock Holmes was a real person, but not in The Great Game kind of way.  They think he truly existed, but there is a conspiracy afoot to turn him into a fictional character.  Alan King is at the forefront of this conspiracy theory, and to tell you the truth, I'm not sure what I think about this idea.  But I can tell you, I'm interested to see where it goes. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention, This Tangled Skein, a short lived, but fantastic podcast put out by Beth Gallego.  It's billed as a podcast about yarn, tea, and Sherlock Holmes (not necessarily in that order).  I'm not a knitter, but Beth's take on the Sherlockian topics of each episode were always a delight to listen to.  She seemed to take the traditionalist and new wave view on many topics, which isn't always easy to do.  Although it's been a year since the last episode, I still have hopes...

See? Told you!  They are all Sherlock Holmes based, but these podcasts are all their own entities.  For those of us who love podcasts and Sherlock Holmes, there's plenty to keep us busy.  Even if you're not a podcast listener, I would urge you to find one and give it a try.  We can but try.

Monday, October 16, 2017

I Reviewed the Whole Extraordinary Sequence of Events

Friday night, my wife and I attended a performance of Baskerville put on by Insight Theatre Company in St. Louis.  As I mentioned last week, I wasn't sure what to expect; I'm not a big theater person and have never been to a Sherlockian play before.  That being said, my review is ready:

I loved it.

A little background before I get into this specific performance.  Baskerville was written by Ken Ludwig in 2015 and tells "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in a way that is true to the canon while adding in plenty of humorous bits.  Now, imagine HOUN and how many characters are in it.  Baskerville is put on by just five actors.  And, to me, this is what really impresses.

Insight Theatre's production is no different.  John O'Hagan plays Holmes alongside Kent Coffel as Watson.  Elliot Auch and Ed Reggi are billed as Actors 1 and 2 respectively, while Gwen Wotawa is listed as Actress 1.

As I watched the performance Friday night, I was struck at how similar I found O'Hagan's performance to Basil in "The Great Mouse Detective."  In a madcap story, he was the solid deductive genius, but you could sense his own energy right under the surface.  In a Q & A session with the audience after Sunday's performance, O'Hagan told the crowd that he modeled his Holmes after Basil Rathbone, and since Basil of Baker Street was modeled after the same actor, I'd say his version of The Great Detective hit home.


Although Kent Coffel has second billing as Dr. Watson, anyone that's familiar with HOUN knows that Watson plays just as large, if not larger, of a role than Holmes in this story.  Holmes is absent for much of the tale while Watson is off on the moor.  Coffel's Watson is the epitome of a stalwart companion in this performance and you can see why Holmes trusts him so and the audience feels that Henry Baskerville is much safer whenever Watson is around.

Director Maggie Ryan explained to the audience in Sunday's talk back session that Holmes and Watson were written to be the two steady roles in this comedy while the other three actors got to get all of the laughs.  An astute audience member (who may or may not have been Brad Keefauver) noted that it was a wise choice to keep the characters true to their original form, otherwise anyone familiar with the original stories would have a hard time with Holmes and Watson as comedic characters.

Elliot Auch gets two pretty substantial roles in this performance: Dr. Mortimer and Stapleton.  And even though his slot in the performance calls for 14 different characters (seriously!  14!), his version of Mr. Barrymore was my favorite.  Dr. Moritmer is a pretty straight forward character, but what he gets to do with Stapleton and Barrymore are entertaining takes on what could easily be cardboard cutout characters.  Stapleton does a lot of flouncing while Barrymore does a lot of limping.

Although it's listed as the Actor 2 role, Ed Reggi's performance should have been labeled "Henry Baskerville and some others."  Reggi spends the majority of his time as the Texas heir of Baskerville manor, and gives the role just enough Texas twang to make it funny without it being a parody of a loud American.  Reggi also gets to play a foul-mouthed Lestrade, and how he is able to pull off Sir Henry and Lestrade in the same climactic scene is one of the many highlights of the show.

I purposely saved Gwen Wotawa's performance for last.  Because it's the best.  My wife and I saw the show Friday night and talked about her role the entire way home.  I got to see Baskerville a second time on Sunday and was just as impressed.  Since Baskerville is such a popular play, I'm assuming the Actress 1 role is just as demanding in all other performances, and if so, the lady that takes it on has to be extremely talented.  Wotawa takes on at least 20 roles by my guess.  All of them have different dresses, wigs, accents, and sometimes genders.  The fact that one woman can differentiate so easily between Mrs. Hudson, Beryl Stapleton, Laura Lyons, Cartwright of the Baker Street Irregulars, and a score of others is no small feat!  But if you get to see this play, Wotawa's performance as Mrs. Stapleton is a true delight just for her reaction to Holmes asking if Charles Baskerville had a girlfriend.

I could go on and on about how much I loved this performance, but not today.  I was lucky enough to get to see it a second time Sunday afternoon because I am selling copies of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street in the lobby before and after the Sunday matinees.  Somehow, I also agreed to be part of the Sunday talk back sessions with the actors.  I had a few minutes to give a synopsis of my book to the crowd and answer one or two questions before the actors came back out on stage, and after that, I spent more time asking them questions than I did talking about my own book (Sometimes curiosity outweighs capitalism and stage fright).

I'm lucky enough to get to spend the next two Sundays with Insight Theatre and their take on the most popular Sherlock Holmes story.  Even though I already have two viewings under my belt, I'm looking forward to more.  Who knows, I may just end up a theater fan after all.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Whole Thing Had Been Fixed Up for Theatrical Effect

The play's the thing!

Okay, that's not a Sherlockian quote, but it sums up my current Sherlockian thoughts.  Because this Friday, I'm going to see my first Sherlockian play!  Being so deep into this hobby as I am, it's surprising that it's taken me over a decade to see the great detective on stage, but that dry spell ends in a few days.

Starting this week, the Insight Theatre Company in St. Louis is performing "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery" all throughout October.  I've heard snippets of reviews of Ken Ludwig's play here and there and expect a humorous retelling of The Hound of the Baskerville, but I purposely haven't looked for much more information on the play.  I want to be surprised by what this troupe puts out there.

Some of their previous performances have included "On Golden Pond," "The Wizard of Oz," "Death of a Salesman," and a bunch of titles that would probably be familiar to anyone with even the slightest theater knowledge, of which I'm lacking.  Although I would've LOVED to have seen their performance of "Charlotte's Web."  Love that book.

Sherlock Holmes has a rich tradition in the theater.  From Mary Morstan, Cadogen West and Josiah Amberly in Doyle's stories to William Gillette and Charlie Chaplin to Charlton Heston and Jeremy Brett to the modern day incarnations all across the globe, Holmes and the theater seem to go hand in hand.  If anyone follows Howard Ostrom on Twitter, you see just how many local productions of the Holmes stories are constantly being put on.

Why does Holmes endure in the theater tradition?  I'm about the last person to try and answer that.  My exposure to theater is extremely limited, but maybe I'll be an expert after this weekend.  Doubtful, but it gives me something to mull over this week anyway....